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Vaccine Availability, Jewish Values, and Shabbat Services

Dear Temple Shalom Family,

More than 10 months have passed since our lives dramatically changed with the onset of the pandemic. Despite the length of time, many of us have yet to find the rhythm of a new normal. There is no “normal” when you can’t hug your loved ones, gather together for meals, go on a carefree vacation, or console the bereaved at a funeral or shiva minyan.

Over the past few weeks, the light at the end of this very long tunnel has slowly come into view with the onset of the vaccine distribution. This medical miracle has also been accompanied by a frantic frenzy, panic, stress, and confusion as many await a turn for their shot. State and county guidelines often seem to contradict each other; adjustments are made to who can go where and when so that doses remain accessible to more vulnerable populations; available appointments open and close within minutes, and some of us spend hours each day trying to secure the winning lottery ticket with three devices and a dozen browser windows open while others struggle to even understand how to fill out preregistration materials. Still, others who are eligible struggle with whether they are “worthy” enough to receive the vaccine when there are so many others who they feel need it more.

Tomorrow night during services we will explore the connections between Parshat Beshallach, this week’s Torah portion where the Israelites cross the Red Sea, and this confusing time in which we now find ourselves. Following services, Karen Miller (one of our ShalomCares chairs) and I will host an oneg breakout room to share a compilation of updates and resources regarding local vaccine eligibility, pre-registration, and appointments as best as we understand them. We hope this will bring some clarity to those having difficulty deciphering the plethora of available information. If you have any questions you are hoping we will address please email me by 5 pm Friday.

Judaism gives us many values to guide us at this moment:

Pikuach nefesh, save lives. We must continue to wear a mask (or two as per some of the newest recommendations), wash our hands, and stay distanced, even after getting the vaccine. When our turn to get the vaccine comes up, it is our Jewish responsibility to take it (as long as we are medically able and eligible according to local guidelines).

Dina d’malchuta dina, the law of the land is the law. We must follow local and state guidelines when it comes to who is eligible to get the vaccine and when we may get it. We need to accept that as all of these systems are new, they will constantly evolve and those guidelines may change. It may take longer for our turn to come up based on where we live, our age, or other conditions. Our vaccine appointments may be canceled to allow for those in other harder hit communities to access appointments first. Our turn may come up for any number of reasons before someone else who may be at higher risk. We should still get the vaccine when our turn comes up.

Lo toneh, do not wrong others. Do not game the system. Our turn will come up when it’s our turn. Others' turns will come up sooner. We should not lie about where we live, what we do, our demographic or health information in order to get an earlier appointment and thus take an appointment from the intended recipients. We should not knowingly set up appointments not intended for us.

Someiach noflim, protect the vulnerable. There are many in our communities who may not have the technology, transportation, and language needed to navigate the current systems. It is up to us to support the efforts aimed at making the vaccine accessible to the most vulnerable in our society. While Maryland may rank 40th out of 51 in terms of vaccine distribution nationally, we are still in far better shape than many other countries around the world who could be several years away from being fully vaccinated. What can we do to make sure that those most vulnerable in our lives and in our world have access to the vaccine? Advocacy and other efforts will hopefully become more apparent in the weeks and months to come.

In the meantime, I encourage all of us (as best we can) to take a n’shimah amukah, a deep breath. Find some moments to focus on something other than refreshing browser windows to get an appointment, remember to spend time outside even though it’s cold, and nourish your body and your soul. The road ahead is long, there have been so many losses along the way, and still more to come. Yet, progress is still being made. Finding opportunities for gratitude is all the more important now.

For those who know someone getting the vaccine, for those administering vaccine, for those grateful for the vaccine, and for those receiving the vaccine, the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative Movement) has a beautiful selection of prayers to mark this most sacred occasion.

May we move forward in health, strength, and patience.

L’Shalom (In Peace),
Rabbi Rachel Ackerman

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